Following closely on last week's news about human voices and brain circuits in autism comes another set of Stanford findings about the wiring of the autistic brain: New work from the lab of Vinod Menon, PhD, shows hyperconnectivity in five major networks in the brains of children with autism. The findings add to the Menon lab's already-significant contributions to understanding how the autistic brain differs from a typically-developing brain and how it changes as children grow.
A story in today's Los Angeles Times gives a good overview of the new findings:
New evidence from [the study]... suggests that children with autism have higher connectivity in certain large-scale circuits, including one that helps determine the relative importance of stimuli, and another that mediates between the “inside” and “outside” world of the mind.
The results suggest that the neuronal map of children with autism may differ from that of the adults and adolescents who make up the bulk of autism brain-scan studies. And they show that such brain scans can be used to distinguish between a child who has tested as autistic and a typically developing one. Such scans were matched to diagnosed autistic children with an accuracy as high as 83%, according to the study, which examined 20 children, who ranged in age from 7 to 12.
“Eventually, down the line, perhaps this can help aid in having more objective criteria for determining autism and distinguishing it from other disorders,” said Lucina Uddin, a Stanford cognitive neuroscientist who wrote the study. “We’re looking for biomarkers, very specific things that you can see in the brains of kids with autism that discriminate them from typically developing kids.”
Not only could the findings help scientists develop a diagnostic test for autism, the work could also provide hints as to why children with autism sometimes have special skills, such as unusual mathematical or spatial abilities, the researchers said.
Previously: Stanford study reveals why human voices are less rewarding for kids with autism, New public brain-scan database opens autism research frontiers and New imaging analysis reveals distinct features of the autistic brain